Yesterday this blog argued that the author and all those others of us who have the resources and the ‘flexibility’ to survive the lockdown in relative comfort should recognise publicly the sacrifices of those who do not. Today, this blog argues that we should also recognise the unique burden being borne on our behalf by the decision makers in the government and be grateful again to providence that “we are not all in it together”.
Whatever our estimation, admiration or disdain, of Boris Johnson and his ministerial team and advisers: of whatever failing and outrages they may stand accused, they, in leading the way out of the lockdown and in reviving the economy, now face what Lincoln called “The fiery trial”. The Prime Minister, with his addiction to quoting great men might repeat the words of the 16th President of the USA who in his address to Congress in 1862 noted that
“The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty… [and]…we cannot escape history. We of this … administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation”.
However over blown that quotation may be for our current circumstances, it might remind those of us who have advised ministers (as experts, special advisers or civil servants) and commentators to count our blessings. We, by equivocating and hedging our advice and views with caveats, can shield ourselves from the “fiery trial” and temper any guilt we may feel when the trial is done. Ministers, and especially the Prime Minister, have no such shield from the fire or the responsibility. They know that their decisions about easing the lockdown and reviving the economy risk bringing misery to the lives of many citizens. They know there are no right answers but plenty that will be judged mistaken by history. They know of all that they cannot know, other than that much will not turn out as expected. Of course, that cannot exempt them from being held to account or alter the fact that it was personal and, in some cases, vaulting ambition that has brought them to this pass. However, it does perhaps entitle them to the sympathy of the rest of the nation as they brave “the fiery trial” on our behalf and perhaps require that we be thankful that it is them, not us.